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Uncovering Yenikapi, Turkey

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Author Topic: Uncovering Yenikapi, Turkey  (Read 1405 times)
Bianca
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« on: March 02, 2009, 08:06:57 pm »

             


             








Outside, the brilliant June sunshine beats down mercilessly on Turkey’s largest city. But the shed is kept cool by a fine mist sprayed from suspended hoses; the mist keeps the exposed wood moist and prevents it from shrinking. Ever so gently, the five women and four men slide a three-meter (10'), L-shaped frame beneath a waterlogged plank too fragile to be lifted directly. One of them gives the go-ahead and they raise the plank in unison, then place it into a wooden case, where it rests on a pine support specially designed to ensure that the plank keeps its shape. Later, the case containing the plank and the support will be lowered into a concrete-lined pool of slowly circulating fresh water. Eventually, after conservation and reassembly, the ancient ship, one of 32 uncovered so far in the run-down Istanbul neighborhood of Yenikapi, will likely go on display in a new museum dedicated to what many experts are calling the greatest nautical archeological site ever discovered: a vast excavation covering more than 58,000 square meters (nearly 625,000 sq ft), the equivalent of 10 city blocks, on what was once the edge of medieval Constantinople
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Bianca
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« Reply #1 on: March 02, 2009, 08:12:56 pm »



Standing among piers of what was for nearly 900 years a hub of international shipping, Ufuk Kocabaş is field director of the nautical arche- ology team from Istanbul University.








“It’s the most phenomenal ancient harbor in the world, and it’s absolutely revolutionizing our knowledge of ship construction during Byzantine times,” declares Sheila Matthews, who is unearthing and researching eight boats for the Institute of Nautical Archaeology at Texas A&M University. “There is no other place that has so many shipwrecks in context with one another.” From brick-transport vessels to round-hulled cargo boats 19 meters (60') long and small lighters used to off-load larger ships, Yenikapii is yielding up the full gamut of ships that once busied one of the most active harbors of the middle ages. Among the site’s astonishing prizes are the first Byzantine naval craft ever brought to light.
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« Reply #2 on: March 02, 2009, 08:18:31 pm »

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« Reply #3 on: March 02, 2009, 08:20:07 pm »










Lost for more than 800 years, Yenikapii’s fourth-century port dates back to Theodosius i, the last emperor to rule over both the eastern and western portions of a unified Roman Empire, and it was active until around 1200. Trading ships converged here from the Mediterranean, the Danube River and the Black Sea. Spices, ivory and jewels came from India; silks from China; carpets, pearls, silk and woolen weaving from Persia; grains and cotton from Egypt; as well as gold, silver, fur, honey, beeswax and caviar from Russia. Marble, timber and brick were imported to build and furnish the booming Byzantine capital, while textiles, pottery, wine, fish, oil lamps and metal items were exported to finance the growth. Pilgrims passed through on their way to Makkah and Jerusalem. Transported in cargo ships, pirate captives and enemy prisoners from Africa, Central Europe and Russia arrived for sale in the lucrative local slave market. Among Yenikapi’s artifacts discovered to date are plates from the Aegean, oil lamps from the Balkans and amphorae from North Africa, along with a profusion of glass, metal, ivory and leather—all evocative remnants of a far-flung mercantile empire that had Constantinople at its center.

The port was uncovered in November 2004 during excavations for a 78-kilometer (48-mi) rail and metro network that will ultimately link Europe and Asia via a tunnel under the Bosporus. Constructed of submersible sections, the tunnel will run beneath 56 meters (180') of water and 4.5 meters (15') of seabed, making it the deepest tunnel in the world. The need is acute: The two bridges currently crossing the Bosporus are jammed, and the existing subway, consisting of one line and six stations, is inadequate for a city of more than 12 million inhabitants.
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« Reply #4 on: March 02, 2009, 08:21:59 pm »



The remains of the port were discovered in 2004 when excavation began for the $4-billion Marmaray urban transit system’s hub, which was then redesigned to accommodate the 10-square-block dig site. The ancient port today lies inland by about a kilometer—one of the reasons it lay undiscovered for so long.
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« Reply #5 on: March 02, 2009, 08:24:45 pm »









Amid this burgeoning megalopolis, Yenikapi is slated to become the biggest transportation hub in the entire country. Metro, light rail and passenger trains will converge here in a sprawling development of shopping malls, office towers and residential complexes rising next to an archeological park that contains the remains of a fifth- or sixth-century lighthouse and a 12th- or 13th-century Byzantine church.

But until then, the site is a hive of activity as more than 800 archeologists, engineers and laborers in bright orange vests race to finish excavations. Despite pressure from the transit authorities to wrap up the dig, however, archeologists refuse to set a deadline for completion of their work. “Every construction site, be it for a small building or a multi-billion dollar megaproject like this one, is a window on the past that is opened only briefly,” explained Ismail Karamut, the head of the Istanbul Archaeological Museum, to Archaeology magazine. “A window of this size may not be open in Istanbul for many decades to come.”

According to Ufuk Kocabaş, the archeologist directing the Istanbul University team, the excavations should be finished by early 2010. Documentation, conservation, and reconstruction of the ships will then continue for many years more, he predicts.


A developing country like Turkey deserves a great deal of credit for putting archeology ahead of the urgently-needed transit project and sacrificing millions of dollars in delays, argues Cemal Pulak, a Turkish–American professor heading up the Texas A&M team. “Colleagues visiting from Europe and the us are amazed,” he remarks. “They tell me that in their countries they are handed a deadline and told to simply do the best they can.”
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« Reply #6 on: March 02, 2009, 08:26:11 pm »



Near the excavated quays is a stone wall, above, that Kocabaş and others believe was part of the earliest city wall laid out by Constantinople’s founder, the Roman emperor Constantine i, in the fourth century, more than 50 years before Theodosius i constructed the harbor.
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« Reply #7 on: March 02, 2009, 08:28:47 pm »



Of the 32 shipwrecks found so far, 17 have been excavated, and some are as much as 40-percent intact.
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« Reply #8 on: March 02, 2009, 08:31:02 pm »









Despite his gratitude that Turkish cultural authorities are fighting hard to preserve the site, Pulak wishes that the operation—large as it is—had been expanded beyond the central part of the harbor to encompass more of the quays, granaries and storage buildings that he suspects lined its perimeter. Such an extension of the dig “would have required a lot of convincing and maneuvering,” he admits, “but it would have helped enormously in understanding the huge harbor and its impact on the economy and life of Constantinople.”

The Yenikapi dig has drawn academics from around the world. In addition to the team from Texas A&M, scholars from Cornell University, Istanbul University, Hacetteppe University in Ankara and Tel Aviv University in Israel are contributing to the research and analysis of the finds. Turkish archeologists are consulting with ship museums in Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Holland, Spain and the uk about the creation of a new local museum. Next October, Istanbul will host an international symposium on nautical archeology and ancient ships.

By that time, the Yenikapi excavation should be nearing completion, and the city’s new transit scheme will be moving into high gear. All told, the $4-billion Marmaray (a name that joins the Marmara Sea to ray, the Turkish word for “rail”) train and tunnel project and the coordinated metro lines will also rebuild 37 stations above ground and three new ones below ground. The network will be capable of transporting 75,000 passengers per hour. Engineers predict that when the system is completed in 2012—two years behind schedule—the percentage of trips by public transport will jump from an abysmal 3.6 percent at present to 27.7 percent, a figure that would put Istanbul at number three in the world in public transport, behind Tokyo (60 percent) and New York City (31 percent).

As if juggling the port excavations and the tunnel-transit project were not enough, engineers also have to contend with the near-certainty of a major earthquake from the 1200-kilometer-long (745-mi) North Anatolian Fault, which runs in an east-west direction only a few kilometers south of the city. Since the year 342, a dozen massive tremors have each left more than 10,000 dead. In 1999, two together killed 18,000 people. Seismologists calculate that there’s a 77 percent probability of a quake of 7.0 magnitude or higher occurring in the next 30 years.

Engineers insist that the tunnels will be able to withstand a 7.5 quake, bigger than the one that destroyed much of Kobe, Japan in 1995. Nonetheless, Geoffrey King, director of the tectonics lab at the Institut de Physique du Globe in Paris, told Wired magazine, “I wouldn’t like to be in such a tunnel during an earthquake.”

About 2400 meters (1.5 mi) northeast of Yenikapi, the new metro tunnel runs beneath the city’s principal historic district, the Sultanahmet area, home to Topkapi Palace, where sultans ruled the Ottoman Empire for four centuries, the sixth-century Hagia Sofia museum (formerly a church, then a mosque), the Blue Mosque and other landmarks. Karamut insists that the tunnel will lie deep enough to avoid risk to the ancient sites.
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« Reply #9 on: March 02, 2009, 08:32:55 pm »



Archeology students mark planks before they are removed for conservation and eventual reassembly and museum display.
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« Reply #10 on: March 02, 2009, 08:34:46 pm »









Like Rome and Athens, both ancient cities that have built subways in modern times despite frequent delays to explore buried antiquities, tunneling for the metro (and a parallel dig beneath the Four Seasons Hotel in Sultanahmet) in 2800-year-old Istanbul has unearthed numerous other treasures, including what is believed to have been the fifth-century main doorway of the Imperial Palace. This monumental bronze gate, some six meters (20') tall, was uncovered near the Blue Mosque, along with Byzantine mosaics, frescoes, and portions of a 16-meter (52') street, sewer system and hammam, or Turkish bath. So far, the later discoveries have not caused engineers to alter the subway tunnel route, however, and it is uncertain what will happen to the ruins that have recently emerged in Sultanahmet.

Meanwhile, the gargantuan dig at Yenikapi continues to disgorge an eclectic mix of the marvelous and the mundane. Apart from the 32 watercraft dating from the seventh to the 11th centuries—including four naval galleys—archeologists have dug up more than 170 gold coins, hundreds of clay amphorae for wine and oil, ivory cosmetics cases, bronze weights and balance scales, finely-wrought wooden combs and exquisite porcelain bowls. They’ve recovered bones of camels, bears, ostriches, elephants and lions—probably imported from Africa for entertainments at the Hippodrome, suggests Kocabaş. Some 15 human skulls retrieved from a dry well may have belonged to executed criminals. Iron anchors have been recuperated, objects so highly prized in medieval Byzantium that they are noted in the dowry records of wealthy merchants’ daughters. The oldest find is an 8000-year-old Late Neolithic hut containing stone tools and ceramics—the earliest settlement ever located on the city’s historic peninsula. One particularly mind-boggling find, discovered aboard a ninth-century cargo ship, was a basket of 1200-year-old cherries nestled next to the ship’s captain’s ceramic kitchen utensils—a cooking grill, hot pot, pitcher and drinking cup—as if waiting for the ancient mariner’s imminent return.

“No, I didn’t taste them,” laughs Kocabaş. “But I did think about planting a few pits to see if they would sprout.” (Kocabaş rejected the notion when he realized both the fruit and the pits had turned to carbon.) The site’s ships, bones and artifacts (and cherries) were so unusually well preserved, he maintains, because silt from the Lykos River and sand from the Marmara Sea quickly covered over the wrecks.

After a fortifying lunch of stuffed grape leaves and meat-filled eggplant at a busy local eatery, Kocabaş and Metin Gökçay, site chief from the Istanbul Archaeological Museum, take me along to explore the first portion of the harbor brought to light. It is also the oldest part of the port, a flashpoint alerting local archeologists to the unique historical significance of a site that had nearly been bulldozed.

En route, we pass dozens of laborers pushing wheelbarrows of powdery, pale-brown dirt up wooden or earthen ramps crisscrossing the immense six-meter-deep (20') pit. Next to a cluster of modern-day shipping containers converted to field offices and conservation labs are hundreds of blue plastic milk crates stacked and loaded with amphorae, pottery fragments and animal bones. In the distance, several long white sheds shelter ships. Beyond tall metal fences enclosing the site stand rows of two-story shops backed by high-rise apartment blocks.

Arriving at a quiet, overgrown area on the western fringes of the site, we push aside branches of fig and bamboo to inspect massive limestone blocks. “These were the original quays,” says Kocabaş. “You can see the notched holes hewn out of the rock for tying up the boats.” Next to the quays is a stone wall that Kocabaş, Gökçay and others believe was part of the earliest city wall laid out by Constantinople’s founder, the Roman Emperor Constantine i, in the fourth century, more than 50 years before Theodosius i constructed the harbor. Researchers at the dendrochronological laboratory at Cornell University have confirmed that wooden supports from the 53-meter (170') portion of the wall that has been dug out date from the fourth century, he explains. Even though the wall and quays lay only a meter (39") underground, they remained hidden and forgotten for centuries.

Initially, the area was to be part of the train and metro station, but when the ancient remains were found four years ago, they were declared off-limits and plans for the station were changed so as to leave the historic monuments intact.
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« Reply #11 on: March 02, 2009, 08:35:58 pm »



According to Metin Gökçay of the Istanbul Archaeological Museum, the site has to date yielded more than 16,000 “quality objects.” Each is first cleaned and catalogued on site.
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« Reply #12 on: March 02, 2009, 08:37:53 pm »









In the broiling heat, a merciful breeze flutters laundry hanging from the tenement windows overlooking the site as we clamber over the wall to survey the remains of tannery pits and a late Byzantine charnel house. “Look there,” directs Gökçay, as he points to a vaulted stone tunnel leading straight to the sea. “That’s a secret passageway so you could slip out of the harbor undetected.” The archeologist speculates that the tunnel led to a former palace on a hill behind the harbor and was also used in the other direction, to smuggle goods into the city to avoid customs duties. Later, Texas A&M researcher Matthews suggests, more prosaically, that the tunnel was used for sewage or drainage.

From here, you can picture how the harbor took shape. A stone breakwater, now gone, led from the quays out into the sea, then curved east to form a barrier protecting the harbor, Gökçay explains. Sediment from the Lykos, which emptied into the port, was also caught by the break-water. But instead of flowing out to sea, the alluvial soil gradually backed up, silting up the harbor. By the 12th century, the port was so shallow it was only used by small fishing boats. Four centuries later, the once-bustling harbor was a memory. A 16th-century account by Pierre Gilles, a natural historian dispatched by the French king François i to acquire manuscripts in what had become the Ottoman capital of Istanbul, describes the former Byzantine port as a garden spot covered with vegetable plots watered by waterwheels known as norias.

Leaving the western wall, we trudge across the kilometer-wide (1100-yd) site to the eastern edge of the port, to the lighthouse that dates to the fifth or sixth century—or rather to the five-meter (16') marble and limestone base of the lighthouse. On the way, we pass the vestiges of stone walls outlining a 12th- or 13th-century church, one of two churches found close to the edge of the filled-in harbor.

All around the former lighthouse, earth has been scooped out to reveal its base and the ground beneath it, opening a cross-section of geological strata. Embedded in a lower zone is a thin black band running horizontally a foot or so above what had been the bottom of the ancient harbor.

“That’s a tsunami line,” Kocabaş explains. “It shows that a major earthquake occurred here, probably—based on the objects we dated in the strata—around the middle of the sixth century.” A jumble of potsherds, wood pieces and other artifacts were churned up by the cataclysm, he says, adding that entire camel and horse skeletons lay crushed in the debris.

According to geological evidence detected elsewhere, at least one more tsunami, or perhaps only a ragingly destructive tempest, occurred around the year 1000. Judging from the violent way some of the boats appear to have been hurled into one another, Kocabaş concludes that several ships were sunk in that storm.
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« Reply #13 on: March 02, 2009, 08:39:12 pm »



                                 








What was no doubt a tragedy at the time, however, has proven a boon to archeologists. Because the waves hit the port so quickly, anchors and cotton ropes sank in place and were quickly preserved beneath silt and sand. “It was an exceptional stroke of good fortune because it showed us for the first time exactly how Byzantine mariners rigged their anchors,” he observes.

After Gökçay leaves to return to his site office, Kocabaş leads me to a nearby excavation shed. “You’re in luck,” he announces, opening the flap to reveal a magnificent wreck, a Byzantine galley with most of its original 30-meter (95') length and half its nine-meter (30') width remaining. “Finding longboats like this is extremely rare, and in fact, we just finished opening the surface today. Yesterday, half the ship was covered with sand.” He bends down to point out where the oars had been placed.

“This ship had 50 oarsmen,” explains Kocabaş, “so it was in- credibly fast and light.” Despite its length, the narrow craft was nonetheless too small to engage in battle, so the archeologist speculates it was probably used to reconnoiter enemy ships. No dromons—Byzantine warships generally twice as long and with
as many as 100 oarsmen—have so far been located at Yenikapi, according to Kocabaş.

“Just feel how hard and well-preserved the wood is,” he continues, allowing me a brief touch. That nemesis of nautical archeologists, the rapacious Teredo navalis mollusk, bores holes into wrecks in the open sea, ultimately turning their planks and beams into crumbly sponge. Yet Teredo did little damage at Yenikapi because the fresh-water inflow from the Lykos river kept them away. Apart from the four galleys, archeologists have so far excavated only about 17 of the 32 ships that have been found. Some six ships, each shorter than 11 meters (35'), were used for fishing and moving goods locally. Around 10 boats between 11 and 19 meters long ranged greater distances, trading around the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea. The larger of these boats also sailed the Mediterranean, bringing grain back from Egypt. The biggest ship that has appeared so far is 40 meters (130') long and dates from the sixth or seventh century. “We nicknamed it Titanic,” quips Kocabaş.

Most of the vessels were hewn of oak, chestnut and pine from the Marmara region, and constructed with iron nails and wooden dowels, he says. Galleys were rigged with triangular lateen sails made of cotton, linen and hemp; cargo ships had square sails of similar material. To make the crafts seaworthy and stop leaks, their planks were caulked with a glue-like substance made of pine resin and oakum. None of the longboats and only a few of the longer cargo ships had decks, according to Kocabaş.

Back in the shipping container that serves as Gökçay’s office, the pair run me through a computer presentation of some of Yenikapi’s greatest archeological hits. Apart from literally millions of ceramic shards, there are, notes Gökçay, some 16,000 “quality objects,” artifacts that illuminate Byzantine life and the expansive trade that made the harbor a thriving entrepôt for a good part of eight centuries.

There’s a fourth-century marble statue of Apollo; a Roman copy of an original work by the Greek sculptor Praxiteles; a gold coin bearing the image of Aelia Pulcheria, sister and regent of fifth-century emperor Theodosius ii; a seventh-century ceramic oil lamp with a cross; an undated ivory carving of the Virgin Mary; an undated marble statue similar to figures on the Pergamon altar, a Hellenistic masterpiece removed from that ancient Greek city in northwest Anatolia to Berlin in the late 19th century. There are board games, dice, ceramic toy ships, 11th-century ceramic cups decorated with bas-relief images of faces with Mongolian features, perhaps from Central Asia, and an enigmatic lead tablet with Hebrew writing that Kocabaş theorizes was used to cast out evil spirits.
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« Reply #14 on: March 02, 2009, 08:42:16 pm »



Recording the team’s finds, Texas A&M graduate student Rebecca Ingram draws a life-size sketch of an oil lamp on a plastic sheet while a colleague photographs another artifact.
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